Tag Archives: raising a woman

“How not to buy more babies”

Photograph of three dolls

Left to right under Merida’s arm: Big Baby (note 99 on foot); Sasha, Gregor.

In my computer files, today I found something I had written in June 2011 for one of my daughter’s caretakers. The title of the file is “how not to buy more babies.” Good timing. Last night my husband and I were reminiscing about one of our daughter’s babies which we called “Big Baby.”  Big Baby was purchased from a thrift store in Dayton when my very young daughter fell in love with the hunk of plastic and wouldn’t leave the store without her. Big Baby had “99” sharpied on her foot, because she cost 99 cents. A while later, my daughter agreed to pass Big Baby along to another family. I found a photo of Big Baby with the Sasha dolls from my childhood, and my daughter having a drumming circle with them. Here are my instructions about how not to buy more babies:

We’re working on some population control strategies for the baby dolls in our house. I know it’s hard to say no to her, but this has worked for me:

If she asks to go to the toy store, offer another option, another place to go, like the playground. If she is insistent, say you will take her to the toy store and get her a balloon, she can choose whatever color she wants, but not a baby. This works best if you talk about it before you are there. When you get there, if she grabs and wants a baby, tell her what a nice baby that is, but that baby is for someone else, and that she can come back and VISIT the baby at the store again sometime. (And by the way, what color of balloon would she like?)

There are several reasons we want to control the number of babies in the house:

  1. She has plenty already. There’s too much stuff on the planet and in our house.       We want to teach her that she doesn’t need more and more stuff to be happy. She already has so many other babies that she loves, etc.
  2. For her 4th birthday, we will get her a very special baby, and we want her to understand the idea of quality over quantity.
  3. Also, we want to start teaching her about the value of money. We’re trying to find her a good piggy bank so she can start saving money toward things she wants, so she understands the value of saving and choosing carefully.

With your blessing, we are going to negotiate that some of her babies might come stay at your house, so she will have some other little souls to take care of over there. :)

 

“The body is like an earth”

IMG_9082

Art by Ted Dunmire and Beth Holyoke.

I recall (or dreamed?) reading a passage in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book, Women Who Run With The Wolves that seemed to be saying: The universe is contained in the body.

All I could find were these lines from Chapter 7 (Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh):

“The body is like an earth. It is a land unto itself. It is as vulnerable to overbuilding, being carved into parcels, cut off, overmined, and shorn of its power as any landscape. The wilder woman will not be easily swayed by redevelopment schemes. For her, the questions are not how to form but how to feel.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether I literally read that the universe is contained in the body. Maybe the brain doesn’t need to find it.

Maybe it doesn’t matter because the idea is there anyway, somewhere, in my body.

How music will do

Thanksgiving cork at my table, smiling.

Thanksgiving cork at my table, smiling.

Setting up my dining table command center for a morning of work, I look at the CDs to find the day’s soundtrack. Something not too demanding, lyrics are okay for the work I have to do today. I find Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days. I put it on, but it’s not as simple as I remembered. It propels me back to the early days of Merida, the vague panic I felt when my sleep-deprived mate Robert abandoned me each morning to go off to work. I sat in the rocking chair, nursing the baby to her morning nap, listening to Iron & Wine’s breath, quiet and trapped until she would wake. Sometimes it was an hour, sometimes longer, my infant, my living heart that stepped into the world safe in slumber on the Boppy pillow. Sometimes I waited for my friend Colette and her baby Sabine to come over, so we could strap babies to our bodies and go for a hike, or simply share the overwhelm, the “quite an adjustment” to becoming parents. Or sometimes I read a book, or more likely a magazine, often something about mothering, how to make things perfect, or just how to survive these early, stretchy hours and days. They felt they would last forever. They didn’t. Now it’s now, now she’s off being seven at school with her friends, now I have only a few grains of baby left in the hourglass, which is fine, which is good, which is what I want, which is heartbreaking.

Now, at night, she worries about all the people around us who are ill, or have died, recently. We name them, talk about how. I remind her that there are also babies being born, babies we know or will know. “I was just thinking about that!” she says, sounding happy. We name the babies, too. But still, the ghosts. She writes elaborate notes to the ghosts that are haunting our house, folds and paperclips them into tiny swaddled bundles, and tosses them out the window into the snow, where I will leave them until they decompose. She knows that it’s worth writing the notes, that maybe it will help.

Which is fine, good, what I want, and heartbreaking.

That some day she will read my words. That some day she will understand how complicated it all is, this leading, this being a parent to a person, to an eventual woman. That some day she might also have music that will tunnel her back, how music will do, to a time that seemed it would never end. That everything ends.

(Unfinished post about) Hello Kitty

IMG_6471Cleaning up my computer desktop, I found this fragment, written in autumn 2012. I am leaving it unfinished because time has passed, and I no longer have that authentic fire to finish it (=my daughter has moved on), but it still seems relevant.

Why I hate Hello Kitty

  1. She has no mouth. (A friend pointed this out to me. My friend was disturbed because her daughter was interested in Hello Kitty, but Hello Kitty was physically incapable to speak, eat, laugh, or sing. The idea came up to draw a mouth on Hello Kitty, but the challenge becomes how to reach every Hello Kitty in the world? It turns out that someone has written a poem about Hello Kitty’s lack of mouth. http://www.queeg.com/hellokitty/)
  2. Hello Kitty causes an otherwise pleasant four and three-quarters-year-old daughter of mine to whine, yell, and sob when I don’t cave in and buy an emblazoned purse at Target because she had already chosen her “impulse buy” (a pink scraper with a pig head on the handle!) at Bed Bath & Beyond. (And this from a child who can usually be re-directed away from whining for plastic crap.)
  3. It’s impossible to avoid the Hello Kitty aisle at Target: THAT CAT IS EVERYWHERE!

“Wait, pretend that…”

none finer

none finer

I know it’s good practice for writing (and living!) to slow down and listen to children.  Their work (in my daughter’s case, drama and storytelling, the elements of theatre, almost every sentence beginning with “wait, pretend that…”) is as important to them as our work (making dinner, job stuff) is to us.  This morning, keeping up with my daughter’s work was aerobic, and impossible.  I was exhausted by the rapidity of the “wait, pretend that…”s coming from her mouth.  But then–for an instant–I was able to step back and realize something.  “Wait, pretend that…” is exactly what I want her to be doing.  It’s how I want her to be in the world.  It’s the stuff of childhood.  I never want to squash that spark.  I want to give it as much room and air and light as I can.  The collision of the “wait, pretend that…”s with the things I must do to get through the day defines a certain kind of tension, a tension that is maybe necessary for creating things (I tell myself).  And yet I wish that I could slow down enough to bask in her world of “wait, pretend that…”

And then I remember that I am a writer, and I have to “wait, pretend that…” if I want to do this work (that my soul calls upon me to do).

And then I hope that this tension will resolve itself into something beautiful.  (And I watch, in my home, as sometimes, it does.)

I hope gratitude is never tardy

shadow and light in Glen Helen

shadow and light in Glen Helen

Sorting through my office, confronting the hamster nests of papers in order to pack and move, I found a piece of yellow legal paper on which I drafted (but never ultimately sent) a note of thanks to send to friends after my daughter Merida’s accident in the summer of 2011.  (I blogged about her accident here.)  Because the world of people to whom I’m grateful continues to expand, I am posting it here.  (You know who you are.)

Here’s what I wrote back then.  Back then, I would have refined it before sending, but now, I won’t:

Dear friends,

This is a note of belated yet enduring gratitude.

Your compassion, company, cards, and meals collectively sustained us after M’s accident.  Today as I cooked a pack of Annie’s mac & cheese, I remembered when a friend who brought us a dinner of summer bounty (fresh veggies from the garden, quinoa) had also included a box of Annie’s–a thoughtful addition to the feast that might only suit grownups.  So many little things like this made such a difference.  And to everyone who’s become part of our lives since, teachers and friends at Antioch School…

As we celebrate Merida’s healing, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for the part you played in supporting us through it all.  Maybe one of the most important things she’s learning in this is how beautiful community can be.

It’s still true.  And gratitude, its physical feeling, feels good.

Something I can’t believe I’m blogging about

Hey Jessie, why is my child singing this cloying song?

Hey Jessie, why is my child singing this cloying song?

I finally remembered to google the lyrics that my five-year-old daughter has been singing lately: “Hey Jessie, Hey Jessie, it feels like a party every day!”  In this song, “Jessie” is pronounced with attitude: “Jess-say!”

We don’t have cable.  My daughter doesn’t watch the Disney Channel; she barely understands what a television Channel is.  She learned the song from another nursery schooler.  WHY ARE LITTLE GIRLS SINGING THINGS LIKE “IT FEELS LIKE A PARTY EVERY DAY”?  Okay, any day probably does feel like a party when you’re five, when you can wear your pajamas to school and draw on your skin and be silly.  I don’t think this song is about that kind of party.

And I’m not convinced that’s a human singing.  It’s probably a machine.  Part of the big shiny plastic machine that chews up the natural self-esteem of children, and spits it out in shapes that are no longer recognizable.

(p.s. to followers of my blog: I’ve not been blogging lately because I’m renovating an old house and preparing to move.  Lots to share, when there’s time.  Stay tuned!)

Weddings, and what they might be

Bride Role Play costume by Melissa and Doug

Bride Role Play costume by Melissa and Doug

Today I took my daughter to our local independent toy store, Mr. Fub’s Party .  We go there regularly for balloons and sometimes more expensive treats.  It’s a great store, and so precious in these days of the mauling malls and Toys-R-Us.  Today’s trip was so she could use the coupon they sent for her birthday (10% off any one item).  I told her I’d buy whatever she wanted as long as it cost less than $30.  (She already has three Groovy Girls but she’d been eyeing a fourth, and I assumed that would be her choice.)  Instead, she chose the Melissa and Doug Bride Role Play costume.  I walked around the store with her for a few minutes, repeatedly asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want?” and “Don’t you want something more interesting, or something to build?” and while she was tempted by a couple things that I consider infinitely “more interesting” than a white wedding dress costume (fits age 4-6!  Start them early!) I decided this dress was okay for several reasons:

1. I wanted to keep my promise to let her choose whatever she wanted.

2. At least this wasn’t another doll for the stable of a million dolls.

3. She loves costumes–loves all things theatrical, not only dressing as a princess.  She has four pairs of wings, and she wears them each, depending on what the occasion calls for.

I bought the white wedding dress for her.  (With the discount and tax, the total was still under $30.)

I’m comforted by a conversation she and I had afterward we left the shop.  I reminded her that brides can wear whatever color they want (and that her mother wore red velvet).

“I know,” she said, “I’ve seen your pictures.”

I named each color in the rainbow of colors from which a bride might choose, including grey and brown and black, and also mentioned stripes and dots.

“I want to wear stripes and dots and ‘giraffe blobs!'” she said.

And I was comforted further by another conversation we had, after she asked what the “he” is called that marries the bride.  I reminded her that there might  instead be two brides, or two grooms, and that if people choose to get married, they can wear whatever they want.   I told her that I know a woman who married another woman and they both wore white wedding dresses, because that’s what they wanted to do.

“I know!” she said, to all of the above, and then decided to marry me instead of the original plan to marry her father.

Oh, that the world of her world will continue to be so open and free, and moreso.

Rainbow on her forehead, sadness in my belly

This is not the kind of makeup kit I’m talking about.

After school today, my almost-five-year-old daughter informed me that two of her friends (very close to her in age) have “make-up kits.”  One of them, she said, brought the kit to school.  Soon after she got home, my daughter drew all over her own face, “putting on makeup” with her washable markers.  I didn’t tell her not to draw on her face.  I decided to focus on natural consequences–let her see how hard it is to wash even washable markers off her face.  (After her bath, there was still a rainbow on her forehead.  This made her happy.)

I know the markers will fade.  But it’s impossible for me to overstate how much I object to children her age having anything called a “makeup kit.”  These friends of hers are sweet and wonderful, and are dear to her.  Their parents are dear to me! Still, I’m feeling angry and truly nauseated at the thought of girly makeup kits for children.

Let me be clear: I’m working under an assumption that the makeup kits in question are not the harmless face painting kits that children use for dress up and Halloween.  I am assuming they are the Princess or wanna-be-a-woman-too-soon type.  I could be wrong.  I told my daughter I’ll get her a face painting kit so she can pretend to be a cat, and so on.  She was thrilled.  She loves fantasy play, and loves to dress up, choosing not just princesses and fairies but many other creative beings.  I feel a whirl of victory that, despite her being in the midst of a “Princess” phase, and being named Merida, she has chosen to be a dragon for Halloween.  I’m working on a homespun dragon costume.  We’ll see how it goes.  I studied theatre.  I completely support the budding actor/director/playwright that my daughter is.  Storytelling and imaginative play are crucial to her psyche, as they are to any child’s development.  Storytelling and imaginative play are crucial to all humanity, actually!  Theatrical makeup and play is not the kind of makeup about which I rant.

What’s making me feel sick is how  “we” undermine and curtail childhood in ways that might seem harmless, but are not.  I’ve worked hard to keep Disney Princess as gone from my daughter’s frame of reference as possible.  Those pink frilly whispers slip in, sure.  After all, we live in the commercial world that is the U.S., and plenty of her friends are allowed to access commercial media.  But my daughter doesn’t watch TV, and isn’t allowed piles of plastic,  soul-killing merchandise.  This afternoon as we hiked in the woods across the road, my daughter carried her beloved baby doll, and told me there are two kinds of Barbies: the kind one of her friends has, and the kind she was carrying.  Another small victory willowed through me.

I’ve sometimes written about these issues on my blog.  My daughter’s name is Merida, named well before the recent princess in Brave.  I know I will continue to face these challenges, in waves, as she grows up.  Right now, these chippings away of the important things of childhood make me want to cry.

Yes, I have a sense of humor.  No, I won’t release my power of choice when it comes to how I raise this future-woman.

Tomorrow I’ll buy her face paint.  I hope it will satisfy her need to play.

Essay on Open Salon

Inspired by a friend who’s gained an audience on Open Salon, I posted an essay there.  Read my back-to-school essay here, and let me know what you think!